Q: I've been dating my boyfriend for two years now and it's been wonderful. I love him so much, we connect, we laugh: We're best friends. He has been honest with me about his battles with OCD, and while it's hard for him to deal with, even I struggle with it. It keeps him from moving forward in life in a variety of ways that can be frustrating to watch: It makes it harder for him to leave not-so-great jobs and pursue careers, it makes it hard to take big relationship steps with him, and it makes it hard for him to say “I love you.” Let me just say: I feel loved by him, each and every day — he supports me, he lifts me up, and he never lies. However, the unsaid sometimes feels like such a burden ("Why can't we be like everyone else?" is a thought that comes to mind a lot) and once, we even separated for a short time because of it. We reunited under the terms that he would see a therapist, and he's been diligent about doing so, but I still worry it will be hard to plan our future together down the line. But living without him almost seems harder. As a planner myself, it's hard not to have every second of our future set in stone and mapped out. Is it worth it to stay if we are in love?
A: Here is one of the worst truths out there: Love isn’t enough. It is, of course, pretty much the zenith of human experience. It’s exquisite to be and feel loved by someone; it’s a thrill to give your love back to them. And when it comes to long-term love, it’s a slog, it’s a nightmare, it’s a wonder, it’s the best. But it's not enough to get two people to the finish line. (The finish line being a life together, which isn’t a finish line and is actually much more like those moving walkways at the airport.)
There are thousands, if not millions, of people out there in the world right now who can personally attest to the fact that love isn’t enough. Love cannot triumph over everything. People who have loved someone with substance use disorder or those with mental health problems may have experienced this, but also it just happens when two people aren’t compatible! It happens when one person wants kids and the other doesn’t, and loving one another the most can’t fix it. It happens when one partner doesn’t want to live in Phoenix and love isn’t enough. It happens when one of you can’t stop gambling and love isn’t enough. It happens when someone can’t keep a job and love isn’t enough. It happens when one partner doesn’t want monogamy anymore and love isn’t enough. Sometimes the realities of being with someone override the amount of love and affection you feel for one another. It suuuucks. It doesn’t make anyone unlovable or bad.
Wanting to is a great reason to break up with someone. There is no prize at the end of your life for having stuck it out with one person. As far as I know, there isn’t a reward waiting for you in the hereafter for staying in a situation that was almost but not quite right because you kind of sort of implied you would when you started dating this guy. And what reward would be good enough for that exchange? What prize would be worth giving up long-term happiness in exchange for not hurting someone you love in the short term? Love and happiness are not the same things. Love has a lot of pain and boredom and monotony and giggles and ecstasy and fantasy and disappointment and surprise and horniness, to be sure. But love does not create happiness. It never has and it never will. You do not owe someone love at the expense of your happiness.
I’m saying all of this because I don’t know that any of us hear this enough: It’s not evil to walk away from long-term love. It’s not evil to acknowledge that you and another person are not compatible, that it will not work in the ways you need a relationship to work. That is not mean or bad or wrong. You aren’t the bad guy. No one is the bad guy. The universe is the bad guy.
“Sophia, does this mean you think I should break up with him?” you may be asking. Not necessarily. I don’t think you’re in some very clear emergency where you need to run and get out. I don’t think you have to make a decision now, either. You’re allowed to swish an idea around your mind for a while. It’s not wrong to be thinking about breaking up with someone and then not end up doing it. You’re in a very difficult relationship and you’re more than allowed to question whether the relationship is working for you!
He seems like a wonderful partner in so many ways — in fact, that’s what makes the whole thing heartbreaking! — but that doesn’t mean that you owe it to him to date him. It’s not your fault, it’s not his fault; it just is. And if you decide to stay and keep working on this, you can keep asking for things that might make it better for you. In fact, I think you should! I’m sure you’re both doing some adjusting that makes the relationship work better for him, but I also think you should both be doing some adjusting that makes the relationship work better for you. Yes, he should continue to go to therapy as you two agreed, but maybe you also go to couples therapy? Maybe you have a “future planning” meeting once a month? Maybe you make certain future plans without him and he agrees to be OK with not being involved? It’s up to you. Part of him dating you means stretching for you just like you’re stretching for him. (I’m sure he is! But both of you should keep working on this.) No relationship is static — even if it feels like you’re in a rut of some kind, that too will change — and some things when you look back at them will be simply a phase of the relationship. I do think it’s possible that there’s light at the end of the tunnel in some sense, that you two find a way together that makes the relationship smoother for you both. But I also am a firm believer that if you get out of the tunnel, there’s light everywhere.
Don’t be afraid to quit things. Don’t be afraid to walk away from something that doesn’t work in your one wild and precious life. There’s certainly glory in trying hard and giving something your all — which it sounds like you’re doing. However, there’s no glory in feeling like you’re sucking things up and waiting things out for years on end. Please trust me that if you do choose to walk, you will feel like a big pile of rotting slime. You will feel very, very guilty and sad. Your brain will tell you that you could have done more or loved harder or tried something else. You may let yourself feel those feelings, but please do not believe everything your brain tells you. You have loved someone; you have loved someone very hard and well. You have shown up, you were there, you have poured love out. Someone loved you well, you loved them well. That is a successful relationship, even if it ends.
It’s A Pleasure appears here every Thursday. If you have a sex, dating, or relationship question, email Sophia at BustleSexAdvice@gmail.com or fill out this form.